Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Temperature of Turkey

I decided to clean out a drawer yesterday. Just one. I called it my Pompeii Drawer because the dust resembled something like a volcanic eruption, not just a neglected Spare Parts Kitchen Drawer. In the drawer I found a meat thermometer. On the meat thermometer was a hook like the hook on a mechanical pencil. In my curiosity, I accidentally broke off the hook thing, but it made me wonder, "Do people really wear these around? Do meat thermometers always come with hook things so that at any given moment, I could pull it out of my pocket and measure the temperature of some meat? I don't know if I'd have room for it and my Texas Instruments calculator...." I have used my meat thermometer one time in 41 years. That is why it is in the Pompeii Drawer. I will probably never use it again. It made a perfectly fine turkey dinner into a nightmare.

I planned to use up everything I could in my chest freezer. The turkey seemed to linger as the meal that most needed to be made. Maybe because we weren't close to a single holiday when turkey is appropriate, the first week of February seemed like as good a time as any. I dutifully defrosted the turkey in the refrigerator. I stuck the turkey in the oven at 2 pm. By 6:30, surrounded by a starving family, I decided to call it done. On a whim, I also decided that tonight would be the first night I would try out a meat thermometer. 155 degrees. Sounded hot. According to the meat thermometer, however, I was well away from the recommended 180 degrees needed for "poultry." Back in the oven went the turkey. I called two friends: "Do they really mean 180 degrees? What if it's been in the oven for 4 1/2 hours?" I turned the oven to 400. I fed the family vegetables and bread. I checked the turkey. 165 degrees. Now it was time to pray. "Please don't let my family die eating this." They ate, they lived, my husband stuck the turkey back in the oven, I found it several hours later and threw it away.

I have a little more space in my freezer now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Of Florida and Birthmarks

I just returned from a trip to Florida. I went with a friend. Our last day and night are the inspiration for the following story.

We walked on the beach. Two women were getting married. A fighter jet soared overhead. And then a baby hammerhead shark, very much alive, washed up on the beach right in front of me. I had two instincts take over. Both were perhaps rooted in being a mom; the problem was that they were in conflict. The first instinct was to save the shark. It was the “Oh, Did You Fall Down and Get An Owie?” Instinct. The shark was cute and gasping and helpless. As soon as I reached for it though, the Other Instinct kicked in. I guess I would call it the “Don’t Pet A Strange Dog, It Might Bite You” Instinct. Except this was a shark. Because I generalize the ocean to a mass of invisible, venomous creatures all silently plotting to sting me, paralyze me, drag me into the undertow and eat me, Instinct Two was a formidable barrier to saving the shark.

It was at this point, I compromised. I touched the shark. I’d like to think of it as a reassuring pat: “Don’t you worry. Your Mom will be here in just a minute.” If I had to be honest though, it was really a poke followed by a loud scream. Just in case it was plotting to spin around and bite my arm in two. My scream landed squarely on a woman obviously familiar with shark beachings who then rescued the shark and me and threw the shark back into the water.

Our last night was uneventful until the sound of very loud fighting punctuated the quiet. A swear word and glass shattering made me reach for the phone and then simply hold the receiver in my hand. My friend woke up too. “Call the front desk,” I said, holding the phone in my hand and deciding to stop there. I waited. She searched for the elusive Front Desk Button and told me later, she didn’t think of the number zero. Fortunately, there is a genius out there who invented a system whereby one can simply hold the phone in a stupor and a call will eventually connect to the front desk. I held the phone…the Front Desk answered.

Tony, the night manager, was true to his word. “We’ll send someone right up.” My friend and I peeked through the hole in the door, cursing the smudge.

“Sir! We need to know where the blood is coming from,” said a security guard, now accompanying the night manager.

The mention of blood and an unknown source takes things to a whole new level. Gone was the giddy voyeuristic intrigue. We suddenly felt tossed into a wholly different situation that demanded much more than either of us possessed.

Fortunately, the blood was from the man who had punched the picture frame. “I just need a vacuum,” stated the now calmed idiot who thought if he couldn’t fix his girlfriend, he could at least vacuum up an entire picture’s worth of glass.

With not much more to see, we decided to do what most people would at 2:00 in the morning. Take pictures. My friend is posing by the peephole. I am pretending to smash a picture.

The silver lining is that we did not pay for this last night’s amusement nor did I have to invent stories of heroism when I got home to a waiting family.

Our first day back together, I made a ham. Seemed like the way to say, “Hey. I’m really back and I’m into this all again.” Not like the communication of, say, a meal of Hot Pockets. My son ate a couple pieces of ham, then asked what the “pink thing” was. Before I could answer, he said, “It’s probably a birthmark. Can I be excused? I just lost my appetite.”

Welcome home, me.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Travel Time

We were waiting to board a flight to Denver. The flight was overbooked, and our family of seven was not helping. The woman at the desk was determined that as many of us that could sit together would sit together. She gave me our boarding passes: one was seat 2B. That was sounding awfully close to the front of the plane, a place we hadn't ever been before. "Is this first class?" I asked carefully, thinking she would gasp, snatch the pass from my hand and reassign me to row 35, right by the bathrooms. "Yes," she replied. "You can switch with the person in row 7. Then you can sit by your kids." 

Now that one took me a little while to consider. Wouldn't any good mother gladly exchange a first class seat in order to sit by her children? I wavered, I'll admit. Then it occurred to me. We have a Lap Infant. Everything changed. 

The term Lap Infant is sort of endearing. It sounds cuddly, sweet, desirable. What it actually means is Really Hot Squirming Baby In Your Personal Space For a Really Long Time. Given that reality, I decided that I could legitimately take the first class seat because there were going to be 2 of us. 

The 7 of us staggered onto the plane. I plopped down in seat 2B with my computer, my diaper bag, my backpack of lame tricks to keep my lap infant happy and my Lap Infant. The man I was sitting next to smiled. The rest of first class did not. Suddenly I realized. There is an understanding among first class seaters. 1. You will not be loud. 2. You will not jostle nor bump the seats around you. 3. Your stuff will fit neatly under the seat in front of you. 4. You will not touch the back of the head in front of you. 5. You will only touch the tray table when there is a reason to touch the tray table. 6. You will not be a Lap Infant. My right eye developed a twitch. My "I'm A Really Good Mom In Control" persona switched into high gear. I knew I suddenly needed to be Martha Stewart Entertains A Baby for the next 2 hours so that the people around me, who paid about 10x more for their seats than I did, could feel like their ticket was worth it.

All told, we did all right. We broke every rule but not on a continual basis (number 6 aside). I had a good conversation with the man next to me. I learned that in first class I would get a single Twix bar, a bag of pita chips and my garbage picked up more often. 

I learned that economy class is forgiving and smily. I learned that being scrunched together gives a little more grace. I learned that the temperature of a baby does not get cooler even in first class.